Knee High By ... Labor Day?

OK, we're kidding, but old saying may apply this year.

Published on: Jun 27, 2008

The old saying surviving form decades ago says that if corn is 'knee-high by the Fourth of July,' you should get a good crop. Out-of-date for years, it may be back in vogue in parts of Indiana devastated by flooding and wet soils earlier this spring. Farmers who planted corn until June 20, often replant, may hope the old saying is still accurate.

Typically, farmers are talking tasseling and pollinating by the Fourth of July these days, and that may still be the case with some fields. Reports indicate that corn planted in the last two weeks of April, as long as it survived floods and wasn't plagued with excessive drowned out spots, may be on target to reach that goal.

Problems developed with corn planted May 5-9, then went from bad to worse when planting didn't resume until late May over most of the state due to wet soils. But the worst was yet to come, with huge floods across much of central and southern Indiana.

One farmer told Indiana Prairie Farmer that he's going to park his planter May 5 to 10 next year and play the odds. And why not? Two of the past three years, May 5-9, somewhere in that vicinity, have been the worst days all season to plant corn. A few even claim it wasn't a popular time frame in '07 either.

The bad luck of planting then has little to do with the calendar, agronomists say, and everything to do with weather conditions that have developed following planting during those dates. In '06 and '08, big rains were followed by 10-15 days of cool weather and saturated soils. That's a recipe to promote seed rotting, let insects and diseases get a strong foothold, and deliver only slow and spotty emergence. Hybrids not as vigorous really suffered this year during that period. Results were obvious where two hybrids with varying abilities to get out of the ground quickly in less-than-perfect conditions were planted side-by-side.

Of course, those who didn't plant May 5-9 this year didn't get another chance until the last week of May. It's been one of those springs most farmers in Indiana will want to forget.

What's the take-home lesson for next year? "I'm going to be ready and plant around May 20, the central Indiana farmer says. It seems like people who plant then are the ones who have had good crops over the past two to three seasons.